Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia tops region for fires detected from space

Cambodia tops region for fires detected from space

A natural-colour image captured on February 1 by the Landsat 8 satellite shows fires burning in shrub lands near a forested ridge in the Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary. The area burning is overlain in orange. NASA/The Earth Observatory
A natural-colour image captured on February 1 by the Landsat 8 satellite shows fires burning in shrub lands near a forested ridge in the Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary. The area burning is overlain in orange. NASA/The Earth Observatory

Cambodia tops region for fires detected from space

Yet again, the Kingdom this year burns brighter than its neighbours, with fires in Cambodia being detected from space at a much higher rate than any other country in the region, according to a NASA report published last week.

It's likely a product of both naturally occurring blazes and also those caused by land clearing, especially on concessions.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A map showing forest fire detections on February 3, 2018 by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite. Courtesy of NASA/The Earth Observatory

Fire season, which runs from January through March, but can extend as late as May, reached its 2018 peak on February 3, when NASA’s Earth Observatory picked up some 1,868 active fires in Cambodia. That compared to 217 in Thailand, 185 in Laos, 114 in Vietnam and 77 in Myanmar.

“The pattern is consistent with recent years," according to a brief report from the public outreach arm of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "[T]he instrument has detected four-to-five times as many fires in northern Cambodia as it did in Vietnam and Thailand between August 2016 and February 2018.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A map showing the cumulative detection of fires since 2006 by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite. Courtesy of NASA/The Earth Observatory

Chea Sam Ang, head of the Environment Ministry’s General Directorate for Administration of Nature Conservation and Protection, said annual fires in deciduous forests are a natural occurrence, burning surface debris and grasslands, but leaving large trees unharmed. Simon Mahood, Wildlife Conservation Society–Cambodia senior technical adviser, agreed a portion of the burning is a natural part of the ecology.

“Cambodia has more [deciduous] forest than its neighbours. For a start, that’s definitely a factor,” he said. “The vast majority of fires are set by people.”

While many fires are from slash-and-burn agriculture, hunting, foraging and resin collection, as well as land grabbing, land clearing on concessions is the key factor, Sam Ang said.

“From the land concessions, when they clear the land they clear the forest for agriculture so after they collect the timber, they set the fire,” he said. “We have more [fires] because of land clearing for the [economic] land concessions and social land concessions.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A natural-color image captured on February 1 by the Landsat 8 satellite shows fires burning in shrub-lands near a forested ridge in the Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary. The area burning is overlain in orange. Courtesy of NASA/The Earth Observatory

There is also a correlation between logging and forest fires, according to NASA’s report.

“Loggers use fire to clear roads and to clear the land after harvesting the most desirable species,” they wrote, noting that without information on the ground it is impossible to determine what caused a given fire from the satellite imagery.

This wouldn’t be the case in evergreen forests – such as in Virachey National Park – where hardly any fires are observed, Sam Ang and Mahood said.

Sam Ang added that fires are “not a priority” issue, though the ministry monitors and works with local villagers on fire education.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Graph of fire detections in Cambodia by Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite over time. Courtesy of NASA, The Earth Observatory

MOST VIEWED

  • Shanxi wins bid to build sections of new Siem Reap airport

    Shanxi Mechanization Construction Group recently won the bid to build two sections of the new Siem Reap Angkor International Airport project in Cambodia for 290 million yuan ($42.16 million). The existing Angkor International Airport in Siem Reap, 5km from the famous ancient temple complex and world tourism

  • Breaking: US House passes 'Cambodia Democracy Act'

    The US House of Representatives in Washington, DC, on Monday, passed the “HR 526 Cambodia Democracy Act”, also known as the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019. If signed off by the president, the bill will allow two major sets of action to be taken against high-ranking Cambodian

  • ‘Zero-dollar’ tours under fire

    Minister of Tourism Thong Khon has blamed “zero-dollar” tour operators for the decrease in foreign tourists to Angkor Archaeological Park in the first half of this year and has called for action against them. Angkor Archaeological Park received 1.24 million foreign visitors in the first half

  • VIP prison scrapped amid much criticism

    The Ministry of Interior announced on Thursday that Cambodia’s first privately run prison, which was to allow prisoners with enough money to upgrade to more comfortable cells, has been scrapped. Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said studies had found that no other country in the